Wednesday, January 04, 2017

A Board of Education Appointment and a Conflict of Interest

The below is a letter that I sent to the editor of "The Selma News" this morning.  I attempted to send it to "The Smithfield Herald" but that paper only accepts letters of 200 words or less.  I can hardly ask a question in 200 words or less.  So, I am also blogging it here.


To the Editor:

On Tuesday, January 3rd, the Johnston County Board of Education appointed Mr. Todd Sutton to fill the Board’s vacancy created when Larry Strickland resigned his post to serve in our state legislature.  In total, nine people applied for consideration for the open position, myself included.  I say that to stress the following point.  I am not writing this letter because I was not the one selected to fill that position.  I was under no illusion that I would be the front-runner for that slot.  There were some fine applicants, Mr. Sutton included.  My philosophy was simply that one cannot be considered if one does not apply.  I do not personally know Mr. Sutton, and from everything I have read about the man written by mutual acquaintances, he seems to be an honorable individual.

Mr. Sutton has two children in the Johnston County school system, as do I.  I am glad to see that a parent is willing to get involved in the educational system that is instructing his children, which was the same motivation I had in proffering an application for consideration for the open position. 
According to the Johnston County School System’s own web site, a news story was published the same day as Mr. Sutton’s appointment.  One of the things mentioned caught my attention.  “Sutton’s wife, Lynda, is a teacher with Johnston County Schools…”  That, my fellow citizens, is where I have a problem with the Board of Education’s selection.  Many corporations and government agencies have regulations against someone being in a position of oversight of one’s spouse or family member.  This should be no exception.  Although Mr. Sutton may very well be an excellent candidate otherwise, this one item should be a cause for disqualification for the position.  Furthermore, this was an appointment, not an election, so such a consideration is even more relevant.  My saying this is why I wrote the disclaimer at the front end of my letter.  

As a taxpayer in Johnston County, a voter, and a father of two (soon to be three) children in the   This is my only gripe about the selection of Mr. Sutton for the open school board seat.  This is a potential conflict of personal interest.  If Mr. Sutton’s wife worked as an educator in a different school system, a private school, or even one of the local charter schools, I would have no problem with the appointment of Mr. Sutton to the Board of Education.  As a matter of fact, I voted for Mr. Sutton in November’s election because of the reputation he had.  However, as I wrote earlier, I don’t know Mr. Sutton personally, so I did not know that he was running for the Board of Education while his wife was and is employed by the same school system that he would potentially oversee.  Had I known that at the time, I would not have voted the way I did.
county’s schools, I have a problem with the spouse of an employee of the school system being in a position to influence working conditions, budgets, compensation, and policies that personally affect their household.

This is nothing personal.  I tend to be objective about such things and I would have the same perspective regardless of whomever it was that got the appointment should they have been in the same circumstance and whether or not I had submitted my own application for the position.  I do know that out of the eight other candidates that applied, there was probably an excellent candidate that should have instead been primarily considered by the Board of Education.  Instead, the board unanimously agreed to allow a potential conflict of interest, and for that I blame the Board of Education, not Mr. Sutton.

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